Somehow, I’ve made it to another Thanksgiving Day, and, if you’re reading this, so have you. Thanksgiving, for me, has always been associated with family. No matter how distant or disjointed my circumstances were at any point, I would always somehow have some family member willing to share turkey, stuffing, and my personal favorite seasonal pleasure, pumpkin pie, with me, and remind me that, no matter what my lot in life was, I at least had family who loved me, or the holiday, enough, to be sure I had a place at their table.
Until this year.
Somehow, the combination of my life choices, my current financial situation and the price of gas and travel has resulted in this being my first-ever Thanksgiving where I’m one of those who has literally no one who invited me anywhere. And, to be blunt, I’m none too happy about that reality.
The closest I came to such a distinction was 16 years ago, not long after I literally begged my spouse to take me back after tensions surrounding the rebuilding of our house had boiled over enough to see me walk out early in November, The family I thought I could stay with strongly urged me to run back with my tail between my legs after a week, and, then as now, I simply could not tolerate the ides of spending Thanskgiving alone. My spouse’s family was unsurprisingly none too thrilled with me at that point, so while my spouse was at least open to reconcilation (as I later learned, more out of fear of losing the meal ticket to an entitled life of leisure our marriage provided), we were “disinvited” to the family gathering. The brother-in-law who was often the rebel with a cause suggested we pay a visit to a cousin of theirs who most of that family had already shunned, whom he was certain would be spending yet another Thanksgiving alone. He felt it would be a decent thing to do under the circumstances, perhaps giving this shunned relative something to be thankful for.
This relative lived modestly, alone, in a dingy apartment paid for by government aid, in a none-too-safe neighborhood. We went to a nearby restaurant and had the usual goodies, all but the pumpkin pie being well below the standards of home cooking I had become accustomed to. I didn’t eat much that day. We listened to this relative describe their health struggles, how they once had a spouse and a child who respected them, and a career that provided some success. All were gone from their life by now. The relative expressed gratitude to all of us, particularly my brother-in-law, for providing them with a few hours of happiness.
On the ride home, my spouse laughed and ridiculed how the cousin was living, and warned me that, were it not for their willingness to forgive me for my sin of trying to flee, that would be my lot in life. I heard that narrative for months as I attempted to regain enough respect from the family beyond the brother-in-law to be welcome anywhere. Mine, of course, thought I had made the most foolish choice possible, so any invite from them was completely out of the question.
My family did relent two years ago, during the pandemic Thanksgiving., and after I finally left my spouse for good. But apparently my presence at that time was disruptive and nerve-wracking enough to make them feel invaded and their health threatened. I haven’t been invited back since.
So here we are. Now, I’m the shunned relative. And the brother-in-law of reason is dead. So I’ve got a lot of free time today.
Apparently, my reactions to a lonely Thanksgiving aren’t all that abnormal. According to Psychology Today’s Kira Asatryan, there are at least two exacerbating triggers that I’m experiencing:
1) If you’re physically far from family, you’ll likely stay that way.
If you live far away from the family you choose to gather with on Thanksgiving—as many people do—there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on the “family” aspect of Thanksgiving altogether.
And unlike Halloween or New Year’s—holidays people typically feel fine spending with friends or acquaintances—the absence of family is truly felt on Thanksgiving. Spending this one day alone can greatly exacerbate any existing feelings of homesickness, disconnectedness, or distance from loved ones.
In other words, Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, calls attention to the fact that you’re far from those you love.
2) The heightened expectations for closeness on Thanksgiving can backfire.
Because Thanksgiving is understood to be the holiday of togetherness, we often come to it with heightened expectations for feelings of closeness. If any holiday should alleviate loneliness, it’s Thanksgiving, right?
The idea underlying this expectation is that one should always feel naturally close to one’s family—that families are somehow inherently closer than other groups of people.
In other words, feeling misunderstood or neglected on this day—the day of acceptance and inclusion—can hurt more than on any other day.
OK, so at least I’m not alone in the experience. So now what?
Well, the same Google search that unearthed the “reassuring” babble above also took me to a piece on “situational loneliness” , where Emily Deaton offered up 8 Worthwhile Ways To Spend Thanksgiving Alone.
Here’s a couple of the ones that resonated most with me:
- Attend (or host!) Thanksgiving with strangers.
Okay, hear me out — Thanksgiving with strangers might sound awkward, but if you’re looking to make some new connections, joining others for a holiday is a great way to make new friends.
You can check your local area to find people who are hosting a meal with open invites. Specifically, sites like Meetup, Craigslist, and even some local Facebook groups are great places to start!
- Begin a new tradition that you genuinely enjoy.
Traditions are a major reason why people enjoy the holidays and research also shows that traditions can help calm feelings of anxiety, which is a win-win!
For instance, my family gathers colorful scraps of paper and we each write down three things we’re grateful for. Afterward, we glue those scraps onto a poster so we end up with a tree filled with things we’re thankful for.
- Consider volunteering your time to keep your mind off of loneliness and to connect with others.
Not only is volunteering a perfect way to alleviate your loneliness, but it helps you focus on others at the same time.
Since many organizations serve community dinners on Thanksgiving and those meals are often led by volunteers, there shouldn’t be a shortage of options available to you!
If you’d rather do something that’s not dinner-related, check with your favorite nonprofit organization and ask if they’re looking for help over Thanksgiving.
Well, for those of you who might actually care, I did indeed find such a place to at least spend part of today. Their only price was to bring a homemade dish My Green Bean Casserole was always popular at family gatherings; I, for one, can’t stomach cream of mushroom soup and french fried onions, so I improvised with fresh mushrooms and freshly cut beans and a plant-based light cream base for the sauce. I spent last night cooking enough for 12. I sure hope at least one of those who partake might like me enough to at least want to have a conversation with me. The place I’m going to requested that people volunteer to sign up for clean-up. I’m on that list, too. The new tradition? Making sure I give at least part of my day to volunteer somewhere. Someone once close to me did that a few Thanksgivings ago when they were going through a transitional time, and of all the beautiful pictures of that person, seeing them dole out meals at the Union Rescue Mission was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen of that person. Clean-up today is a start. The Mission’s on my list–maybe Christmas Day.
My family members have, for the most part, been unwilling to have any contact with me at all lately. Most of my friends have been too busy or preoccupied, too. A few have COVID and are self-isolating, I suppose they get a pass.
The others? I’d really like to be more forgiving. I truly don’t know what I did to deserve this fate. The last time one of them refused to talk to me, I learned they were battling a life-threatening disease. The last time I spoke to this person, they were concerned that their health was being compromised by job pressure and chronic pain. I sure hope this person is OK. I’m not even allowed to ask any more.
I know I’ve made a lot of trips to the airport lately, shuttling people to flights to see family. Lovely younger people who still have parents welcoming them in their hometowns. Older couples visiting their kids or other relatives. They actually talk to me. I know more about their lives now than those I should be closer to.
So I guess I’m thankful for them. I’m thankful for the friends who do check in on me, one in particular. That friend had all but resigned themselves to a lonely Thanksgiving, lacking a working car to see their dad and stepmom. A caring friend with a spare vehicle offered them the option of borrowing it. If weather permits, that special friend will be able to have a Thanksgiving with family–one I at least know I was welcome at. Perhaps in a future year, finances will allow me to take them up on the offer. I’m REALLY thankful for thse special people.
I’m thankful for being able to have this outlet to wish any of you the most sincere wishes for you and your loved ones to have a wonderful holiday. And if you do find yourself in my position, I promise you, I’m a text, e-mail or phone call away. No one should be alone on Thanksgiving.
For those of you who think this qualifies as oversharing, “ruining my brand”, puh-leese. The world is on vacation. The president is pardoning Chocolate and Chip. I can get away with this outpouring of emotion regardless of what you believe. And if anyone reading this happens to agree with your “sage advice”, I defy them to message me and reinforce it. Your “sage advice” is what has driven me to tears and exasperation on many days where I’ve had more right to feel upbeat than today. No matter how badly you may want to drag me down on this day, I simply won’t let you.
I guess I’m thankful for the support and strength I do have, as well as the newfound health and stamina those who have been in my corner have provided. Even the lovely Union Mission volunteer who no longer speaks to me.
I wish that person, and all of you, a truly blessed holiday. Thank YOU.
Until next time…